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Opinion Roundup: Ballot security, truth seekers, tobacco-prevention rating and more

Posted December 17, 2018 8:28 a.m. EST
Updated December 17, 2018 8:39 a.m. EST

Monday, Dec. 17, 2018 -- A round up of opinion, commentary and analysis on: More NC jurors reject the death penalty, port of Wilmington continues to ramp up, rethinking Residency Determination Service, how Duke Energy is leading the Southeast on energy efficiency, new primary may replace GOP candidate and more.


REAL ELECTION FRAUD?
EMERY DALESIO: After fraud probe, new primary may replace GOP candidate (AP reports) — Legislation quickly passed by NC's lawmakers this week would prepare a path for Republicans to dump their nominee in a still-undecided U.S. House race marred with ballot fraud allegations.

MICHAEL BIESECKER & EMERY DALESIO: Worries about ballot security overshadow disputed House race (AP reports) — Six months ago, election officials in rural NC's Bladen County resolved to tighten security at their headquarters and protect the ballots stored there by installing an alarm and video cameras and securing an unlocked door that leads to another government office. The fixes never got done before Election Day. The then-chairman of the county commissioners, who control the purse strings, did not see the need.

LEGISLATURE IN OVERTIME
Steinburg should apologize to DA for 'politicization' claim (Elizabeth City Daily Advance) -- State Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, did the right thing last week when he belatedly fired his legislative assistant, Diana London, following her guilty plea to a charge of misdemeanor larceny in Dare County. … London’s firing also ends her troubling dual employment as both Steinburg’s legislative assistant and aide to his successful state Senate campaign. Steinburg had claimed there was nothing wrong with London’s working in both roles, adding he had received both ethical clearance and permission for her to do so from top House leaders. … The senator-elect, who has now acknowledged the truth about London’s conduct by firing her, needs to stop making these outrageous claims and apologize to District Attorney Andrew Womble and his staff for what he’s said.

ALEX GRANADOS: What will the Governor give legislative Republicans for Christmas? (EdNC reports) — As the most recent General Assembly session winds down, a technical corrections bill made its way through the legislature with serious implications for two separate school districts. Now that the bill has passed, Governor Roy Cooper is faced with a decision that amounts to a Catch-22.

POLICY & POLITICS
MOLLY WORTHEN: Is There Such a Thing as an Authoritarian Voter? (New York Times column) -- A recession might be just around the corner, but for experts in the field of “authoritarian studies,” these are boom times. Jonathan Weiler, a political scientist at UNC-Chapel Hill, has spent much of his career studying the appeal of authoritarian figures: politicians who preach xenophobia, beat up on the press and place themselves above the law while extolling “law and order” for everyone else. He is one of many scholars who believe that deep-seated psychological traits help explain voters’ attraction to such leaders. “These days,” he told me, “audiences are more receptive to the idea” than they used to be.

WALTER DELLINGER: Should we be able to indict a sitting president? Consider Spiro Agnew (Washington Post column) -- The end of Spiro T. Agnew’s vice presidency is instructive — and provides a good example for why we should be able to indict a sitting president.

CRAIG TIMBERG & TONY ROMM: New report for Burr’s committee on Russian disinformation shows scale and sweep (Washington Post reports) -- A report prepared for the Senate that provides the most sweeping analysis yet of Russia’s disinformation campaign around the 2016 election found the operation used every major social media platform to deliver words, images and videos tailored to voters’ interests to help elect President Trump — and worked even harder to support him while in office. The report, a draft of which was obtained by The Washington Post, is the first to study the millions of posts provided by major technology firms to the Senate Intelligence Committee, led by Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), its chairman, and Sen. Mark Warner (Va.), its ranking Democrat. The bipartisan panel hasn’t said whether it endorses the findings. It plans to release it publicly along with another study later this week.

CELIA RIVENBARK: Nancy Pelosi, woman on fire (Wilmington Star-News column) — When Nancy Pelosi stepped out of the White House after a contentious televised meeting with Donald Trump this week, she whipped out her designer sunglasses and, with a barely there smile, used both hands to put them in place before walking briskly toward her waiting car. I haven’t seen a better use of “hip eyewear as mic drop” since Denzel Washington in “Man on Fire.” (Which, incidentally, I highly recommend when the treacle of the holiday movies spikes your blood sugar numbers; it’s a marvelous antidote.)

The Truth Seekers (Greensboro News & Record) — Time Magazine’s choice of the “Guardians” — a group of journalists — as its Person of the Year is a fitting recognition of the “professional truth seekers” on the front lines in the “war on truth.” Remember, the “Person of the Year” isn’t necessarily an honor for someone who accomplished the most good. It’s Time’s judgment of the person or people who had the most impact.

More NC Jurors Reject the Death Penalty (Public News Service reports) — For the first time in the state's modern history, NC juries have rejected the death penalty for two consecutive years. There were only three capital trials in NC this year - one each in Lee, Scotland and Wake counties. All three juries chose life without parole for the defendants instead of death sentences.

TIM BUCKLAND: Port of Wilmington continues to ramp up (Wilmington Star-News reports) -- Despite Hurricane Florence stopping operations for more than a week and causing millions in damage, the Port of Wilmington is continuing on another record pace for container traffic, port officials said. "All in all, the calendar year and the end of our fiscal year from last year turned out to be very positive," said Brian Clark, the port's chief operating officer.

About 40 video gaming machines seized in NC raid (AP reports) -- Law enforcement officers have raided a property that the Tuscarora Indian Nation claims as sovereign territory in eastern N.C. after they received complaints that an illegal casino was being operated there.

Needs abound despite prosperity (Hendersonville Times-News) -- News that Henderson County ranks among the least economically distressed counties in North Carolina comes as no surprise, but it does not paint the full picture for residents who struggle to make ends meet.

EDUCATION
SCOTT JASCHIK: UNC Board Rejects Plan for Confederate Statue (Inside Higher Ed reports) -- The UNC Board of Governors rejected a plan to build a new history center on the Chapel Hill campus to house Silent Sam, a Confederate monument widely seen on the campus as a symbol of white supremacy.

Prayer and protests over Silent Sam on Sunday, a graduation day for some UNC students (Durham Herald-Sun reports) -- Student protesters and supporters of Silent Sam met at the empty base of the statue again Sunday in a confrontation that at times had the air of a playground standoff. The shouting started around noon Sunday when members of the Heirs to the Confederacy walked to McCorkle Place to hold a prayer at the stone base that once held the Confederate statue known as Silent Sam. They were quickly joined by counter protesters and the groups traded insults.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg tests for lead at its oldest schools (AP reports) -- Tests show water fixtures at 41 of Charlotte-Mecklenburg 89 oldest schools had unsafe levels of lead, and officials say those fixtures have been removed, blocked off or filtered as soon as the high levels were detected.

KRISTEN BLAIR: The power of K-12 technology integration today: Now, it’s personal (EdNC reports) — Research Triangle High School (RTHS) opened in 2012 with high hopes and an innovative teaching model. A public charter school founded by Pamela Blizzard and Eric Grunden — charter pioneers from the enormously successful Raleigh Charter High School — RTHS sought to leverage technology to “flip” classroom learning. Students would watch lectures online at home and then apply that learning in class. Unfortunately, early outcomes did not match early hopes.

WALTER DALTON: It’s time to rethink our Residency Determination Service (EdNC column) — While RDS is a burden for four-year schools, they at least have the luxury of determining who they will offer admittance in the spring, thereby sending rejection letters to those who don’t qualify. They then work with those they will admit over the next few months to get the necessary documentation and information to meet the RDS requirements. Contrast that to the open door policy of the community colleges, which often take the student who has an epiphany at the last minute that they are going to take the plunge and go back to school

ELIZABETH MCDUFFIE: RDS working to make fair, accurate, and efficient residency determinations (EdNC column) — “Resident for tuition purposes”—a phrase that is familiar to NC college admissions and financial aid administrators. My first exposure to residency came on a college campus as I began learning how to determine whether students met the residency requirements for state financial aid and in-state tuition. On the surface it sounds simple, but to be honest, it’s complicated. To better understand, let’s take a look at the residency process and how it has evolved.

JULIA WALL: Prayer and protests over Silent Sam on Sunday, a graduation day for some UNC students (Charlotte Observer reports) — Student protesters and supporters of Silent Sam met at the empty base of the statue again Sunday in a confrontation that at times had the air of a playground standoff. The shouting started around noon Sunday when members of the Heirs to the Confederacy walked to McCorkle Place to hold a prayer at the stone base that once held the Confederate statue known as Silent Sam. They were quickly joined by counter protesters and the groups traded insults.

Thanks, Charlotte, but the school board ‘already knows’ what’s best on equity (Charlotte Observer) — It’s troubling, but perhaps unsurprising, that in a discussion last week about equity in CMS schools, school board chair Mary McCray was disdainful of the public she’s supposed to serve. That conversation, which took place at Tuesday’s school board meeting, involved the creation of a citizen advisory panel that could help CMS confront and explore issues surrounding race.

JULIAN EURE: Brown honored with Witherspoon-Harris Award (Elizabeth City Daily Advance reports) — his year’s re­cip­i­ent of the award named for two com­mu­nity lead­ers who worked to bridge con­flict and pro­mote unity is some­one with a long record of do­ing sim­i­lar work. Dr. Hezekiah Brown, an expert in mediation, arbitration and conflict resolution, was awarded the 2018 Witherspoon-Harris Award by the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank Community Relations Commission during the panel’s annual banquet at the K.E. White Center on Saturday.

HEALTH
RICHARD CRAVER: N.C. ‘improves’ slightly in tobacco-prevention ranking; more money spent to prevent use of e-cigarettes (Winston-Salem Journal reports) -- A slight increase in legislative funding toward tobacco-prevention initiatives was the catalyst for a one-place improvement in N.C.’s ranking in an annual national report. N.C. went from 43rd to 42th in terms of how much it funds annually toward tobacco-prevention programs, such as quit lines and public health marketing initiatives.

FRANK TAYLOR: NC health officials not on track to comply with federal settlement (Carolina Public Press reports) — Time is winding down for NC health officials to make substantial improvements in services for adults with mental illness, required under a 2012 settlement with the U.S. Department of Justice. The state has until July 1, 2021, to achieve quantifiable requirements under the settlement.

Spare the vaccine, endanger the child (Winston-Salem Journal) — The major chickenpox outbreak at a private school in Asheville is evidence of the bad things that can happen when parents think they know more than scientists and pediatricians. At least 36 students at Asheville Waldorf School — out of a total enrollment of 152 children — came down with chickenpox in November in the largest outbreak of the disease in NC since a vaccine became available more than 20 years ago.

ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
GARETH MCGRATH & ALLISON BALLARD: Wilmington hits 100 inches of rain for 2018 (Wilmington Star-News reports) -- It’s a milestone the Port City probably didn’t want to reach. But Saturday Wilmington surpassed 100 inches of rain for 2018. “As of 9 a.m., (Dec. 15, 2018)Wilmington, NC, has measured 100″ of rain for 2018!” the National Weather Service’s Wilmington office posted on its Facebook page. The city, which measures its official rainfall at the Wilmington International Airport, averages 57.6 inches of rain a year -- a mark that was surpassed in August even before Hurricane Florence slammed into Southeastern North Carolina.

JOHN DOWNEY: How Duke Energy is leading the Southeast on energy efficiency (Charlotte Business Journal reports) -- Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress are the only utilities in the Southeast that exceed the national average for power saved through efficiency programs.

MAXIM TAMAROV: Hog farmers win battle, not war (Jacksonville Daily News reports) -- It was an emotional week for both hog farmers and nuisance lawsuit supporters. On Wednesday, the end to a month-long trial came after jurors returned verdicts in favor of all eight plaintiffs, who live near a Sampson County hog farm, and imposed compensatory damages of a little more than $100,000 in all. Neighbors said Smithfield Foods hog operations were damaging to their daily life, complaining of powerful odors, clouds of flies, midnight noises and screeching trucks. Plaintiffs argued they could not enjoy their property enough to host a family barbecue, let kids play outside or tend a garden. This week's verdict was the fourth loss for the North Carolina hog industry.

BOB WOODARD & BEN CAHOON: Seismic tests for oil and gas pose a threat to the Outer Banks (Winston-Salem Journal column) -- Recently the Trump administration approved requests by five companies to search for oil and gas deposits along the Atlantic coast by conducting seismic surveys. Approval was granted despite the opposition of every East Coast governor except Maine’s, despite opposition by hundreds of coastal municipalities and without holding listening sessions in the affected coastal communities. As elected representatives of Dare County and Nags Head, we share concerns over threats to the coast. We are Republicans and conservationists. We recognize the importance of a healthy coast to maintain our prosperity and way of life. Our combined history of listening to our constituents and neighbors puts us in a position to speak out about risks to our coastal business sector and livelihoods, and we can say with certainty: offshore oil drilling activities are bad for business and North Carolinians don’t want them.

The missing party in the Chemours consent order (Wilmington Star-News) — We have no doubt that the Chemours consent order does many important things and gets them done quickly, not only for groundwater users in Bladen County, but also for those of us who get our water from the Cape Fear River. Everything the proposed court order requires needs to be done. That is why the consent-order process needs to be slowed down, questions answered, and the public-comment period extended.

JENNIFER ALLEN: Mattamuskeet Plan Awaits State Approval (Coastal Review Online reports) — The Lake Mattamuskeet Watershed Restoration Plan, which was 18 months in development, has been submitted for final approval by the state Division of Water Quality.

ABBIE BENNETT: Did you feel that? A 3.0 earthquake shakes parts of NC, Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee (Durham-Herald Sun reports) — A 3.0 earthquake in east Tennesee was felt in neighboring states including Georgia, Kentucky and NC. In NC, the quake was felt near Marshall, which is about 21 miles northwest of Asheville, and near Brevard, about 34 miles southwest of Asheville.

… AND MORE
VINCENT MALLOZZI: From Monkey Bars to Mountains to Marriage (New York Times reports) -- Kathleen Ughetta and Andrew Wood met on a set of monkey bars at Lafayette Avenue Elementary School in Chatham, N.J. and their relationship was set in motion when he asked to hold her hand at their school’s fifth-grade roller-skating party. Later that school year during one very memorable recess, they shared a first kiss. … They dated throughout high school and continued as an item through most of their time together at UNC-Chapel hill, but in their last semester as seniors, their relationship “hit a serious rough patch,” asUghetta put it. They graduated from UNC in May 2015. Rather than going separate ways, they got into Wood’s Subaru and drove 10,000 miles, from the Jersey Shore to the California coast and back, camping and hiking at close to 20 national parks and forests.

Telegram moves into Rocky Mount Mills (Rocky Mount Telegram reports) -- The Rocky Mount Telegram has transitioned into the future by moving into a 200-year-old building. The Telegram last week relocated its editorial, advertising, circulation and business staff into a state-of-the-art 5,500-square-foot space in the main building of the Rocky Mount Mills.

THEODEN JANES: He died with a dream: To play an arcade game for 100 straight hours — on one quarter (Charlotte Observer reports) — Joel West, a NC man widely considered to be one of the most influential classic-arcade video gamers of all-time, died in his Lincolnton home on Nov. 28 of a heart attack at the age of 58. But it’s probably not a stretch to imagine that he would have preferred to go out doing one of the two things he felt he was best at in life: playing the 1980 arcade game “Berzerk,” or its sequel, 1982’s “Frenzy.”

ADAM WAGNER: Battleship NC moves forward in wake of Florence (Wilmington Star-News reports) — For Capt. Terry Bragg, the damage Hurricane Florence inflicted on the Battleship NC’s visitors center represents a chance to re-shape. “We’re going to use this opportunity to reinvent the battleship experience and make it more in-depth,” Bragg said, “because we have a huge collection and no place to put it.” Despite $2.1 million in damage inflicted by the slow-moving September storm, the battleship remains open for business. Damage is almost entirely focused on exhibition space in the visitors center that formerly housed the auditorium, several video screens and a photo booth.

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